Get educated on executive functions & set appropriate expectations for different phases of development

Executive functions (also referred to as executive skills) describe a set of mental processes that help us connect past experiences with present actions.  We use them when performing normal daily activities that require organization, planning, initiating tasks and sticking with them through completion.  They're also critical in controlling impulses, regulating emotions and adapting to new environments.  

Here is a list of the executive functions and typical phases of development:

Emotional control: The ability to manage emotions for achieving goals, completing tasks or controlling and directing behavior.  

  • Pre-K - Elementary 3rd Grade: 
    • Able to play in a group without getting excited to the point where they can’t calm down
    • Doesn’t lose temper every time that they don’t get their way
    • Will not destroy others' property to get revenge  
  • Elementary 4th Grade - Middle School: 
    • Can gather themselves to review and double check school work
    • Won’t have a tantrum over losing a game  
  • High School: 
    • Can regulate anxiety enough to perform
    • Has demonstrated enough consistent behavior to be trusted to babysit

Response Inhibition: The capacity to resist urges while allowing time to evaluate a situation and the impact of an action.  

  • Pre-K - Elementary 3rd Grade: 
    • Will not run into the street or approach dangerous situations recklessly
    • Raises hand in group activities and can sit calmly without interrupting
  • Elementary 4th Grade - Middle School: 
    • Demonstrates good behavior when there is a substitute teacher
    • Uses good manners
  • High School: 
    • Can maintain consistent conduct in absence of authority or oversight
    • Will be able to decline an opportunity if they already have a commitment

Organization: The ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of mental information or physical materials.  

  • Pre-K - Elementary 3rd Grade: 
    • Their papers and folders make it to and from school
    • Will hang up coat and put away backpack when arriving home from school with occasional reminders
  • Elementary 4th Grade - Middle School: 
    • Can communicate the day of the week and times of day for different activities
    • Keeps room tidy with occasional reminders
  • High School: 
    • Locates equipment for activities at times when needed
    • Proactively prepares for changing daily schedule

Task Initiation: The ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem solving strategies.  

  • Pre-K - Elementary 3rd Grade: 
    • Can perform a 2-3 step routine of chores before school or bedtime (ex: close blinds, brush teeth, pj's)
    • Able to begin a task shortly after receiving instructions
  • Elementary 4th Grade - Middle School: 
    • Able to complete most homework assignments without asking for support
    • Willingly accepts tasks that will require 3-4 steps or moderate level of effort
  • High School: 
    • Starts projects in advance instead of always waiting until the last minute
    • Proactively assists with or initiates assigned household chores without prompting

Working Memory: The ability to hold information in memory while simultaneously performing another operation.  It incorporates the ability to draw on past learning or experience to apply to the situation at hand or to project into the future.  

  • Pre-K - Elementary 3rd Grade: 
    • Can replicate previous projects when using construction toys or drawing
    • Able to execute 2-3 step directions such as get shoes, get coat and meet at door
  • Elementary 4th Grade - Middle School: 
    • Able to remember varying expectations of different teachers and coaches
    • Able to follow routine chores at home without reminders
  • High School: 
    • Proactively remembers events that aren’t part of the typical routine
    • Executes on dynamic multi-step directions during practices

Sustained Attention: The capacity to keep paying attention to a situation or task in spite of distractibility, fatigue or boredom.  

  • Pre-K - Elementary 3rd Grade: 
    • Manages ~10-20 minutes of homework without breaks
  • Elementary 4th Grade - Middle School: 
    • Manages 30-60 minutes of homework with one break
    • Can handle chores that could take up to 30 minutes of effort such as leaf raking
  • High School: 
    • Manages 1-2 hours of homework with a few breaks
    • Can efficiently complete internet research with limited off-track web surfing

Goal Directed Persistence: The capacity to have a goal, follow through to the completion of the goal, and not be put off by or distracted by competing interests.  

  • Pre-K - Elementary 3rd Grade: 
    • Able to manage reasonable challenges to complete a craft or construction toy
    • Will go back to an important task or project at some point if interrupted
  • Elementary 4th Grade - Middle School: 
    • Can complete complex errands such as going to a destination to acquire something
    • Able to hold interest in an item long enough to save up for a month to earn it
  • High School: 
    • Able to earn money and save over time to acquire a desired item
    • Will practice without prompting in order to improve a desired skill

Prioritized Planning: The ability to create a roadmap to complete an objective while making decisions about what’s important to focus on and what’s not important.  

  • Pre-K - Elementary 3rd Grade: 
    • With coaching, will work through options for conflict resolution
    • Has thoughtful ideas for how they will spend gift money or allowance
  • Elementary 4th Grade - Middle School: 
    • Able to plan standard multi-step school projects on their own
    • Capable of breaking assignments into a few smaller tasks and putting them in the right order
  • High School: 
    • Able to devise plan for fitting new projects or assignments into the existing schedule
    • Has ideas for what they’ll do over their summer break

Time Management: The ability to estimate how much time you have, how to allocate it, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines.  

  • Pre-K - Elementary 3rd Grade: 
    • Can complete tasks within reasonable timeframes 
    • Able to adjust effort to complete the task when given incentive
  • Elementary 4th Grade - Middle School: 
    • Can estimate amount of time it takes to finish routine tasks
    • Able to adjust homework schedule on nights with additional activities
  • High School: 
    • Able to estimate amount of time needed for multiple tasks and and a timeframe to complete everything
    • Able to identify and focus on the priorities when time is limited

Shifting & Flexibility: The ability to move from one situation to another and revise plans in the face of new information or challenges.  

  • Pre-K - Elementary 3rd Grade: 
    • Able to refrain from meltdown when plans change
    • Adheres to redirection from leaders when they’re not doing things correctly
  • Elementary 4th Grade - Middle School: 
    • Able to move on from disappointments or when they perceive unfairness
    • Able to adapt behavior in unexpected situations
  • High School: 
    • Will embrace alternative roles when preferred choices aren’t available
    • Seeks compromise when peers aren’t flexible

Metacognition: The ability to observe how you problem solve.  It includes self-monitoring and self-evaluation skills:

  1. Self-Monitoring - Recognizing what is going on inside your own mind, body, environment and relationships
  2. Self-Evaluation - The capacity to evaluate how well you did and to make good decisions about how to proceed.
  • Pre-K - Elementary 3rd Grade: 
    • Able to change behavior after observing peers in similar circumstances
    • Able to improve performance after receiving feedback and continued practice
  • Elementary 4th Grade - Middle School: 
    • Able to anticipate the consequence of an action
    • Aware of their physical and mental status in their peer group
  • High School: 
    • Aware of how their behavior effects their relationships
    • Able to assess strengths and weaknesses in their own performance